Ryan Gunnigle: lessons learned from growing a world-class business
Kids2 CEO Ryan Gunnigle standing by an office / Photo courtesy of Ryan Gunnigle
Since taking over the family business in 2005, Ryan Gunnigle has helped it grow exponentially. Now, Kids2, Inc. is one of the world’s top toy companies, with iconic brands like Baby Einstein, Ingenuity, and Bright Starts. With fifteen global offices and millions of dollars in revenue each year, Gunnigle has a lot of wisdom to share with young entrepreneurs. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to pick his brain. Here’s what he had to say.
Helping families with tiny wins
As an entrepreneur and toy company owner, Gunnigle focuses on helping families reach their goals by achieving “tiny wins.” As children progress, parents need different tools and toys to help their kids reach various milestones throughout their development. By simplifying the process and focusing on what parents will need to teach their kids different skills, Gunnigle has been able to help millions of families achieve their goals.
In short, that means that he creates toys that help children become successful adults. So exactly how does he do this? By focusing the products developed by Kids2 not only on what the kid needs but also by assisting parents in being the best versions of themselves.
One of the main things he’s learned is that it’s not just about the toys themselves. Instead, what matters most is how parents interact with their children when using these toys. This philosophy has helped him grow the company into what it is today.
Expanding a small company into a global business
Today, Kids2 has over 450 employees and brings in more than $350 million each year.
It’s been an enormous growth cycle for their company. So, how did Gunnigle do it? He achieved this massive feat by changing its focus from its products to its branding, insights, and design. Furthermore, he optimized his product development process to focus on his customers’ wants. This means understanding what parents need and want when buying toys for their kids.
Parents will always be the drivers of the toy industry, so it’s imperative to know what they’re looking for. However, Gunnigle also understands that the toy industry must also progress as technology advances. And with an ever-growing global market, it’s crucial to have a presence in as many countries as possible.
Gunnigle has successfully grown Kids2 into a worldwide company with all of this in mind.
To do this, he figured out how to bring its customers the most value. In doing so, Gunnigle helped the company grow from a small business to a leader in today’s market. In turn, he has achieved his goals of assisting families to achieve their “tiny wins.”
Gunnigle brought additional value to consumers by providing an accurate and straightforward view of his product development process. As he puts it, “The key goal is to be transparent through everything we do.”
In everything you do when running your company, make sure to show your customers care and appreciation. When telling your brand’s story, it’s imperative to keep your customers in mind. If they are the ones that you’re developing your product for, they should remain a reminder of why your business exists in the first place.
Since Gunnigle took over Kids2 from his family, running the company was by no means easy at the beginning. He faced many challenges and figured out how to get past them independently.
However, the lessons that he learned provide a unique perspective on exactly how he dominated the world of business. Here are three of the obstacles he faced when taking over the family business and the lessons he learned along the way.
1. Figuring out finances
After buying Kids2, Gunnigle had to teach himself about the benefits and pitfalls of deciphering a company’s assets. This included cash flow and debt, global transactions, money management, and risk.
Profit and growth were necessary to pay his parents back for buying the company. However, Gunnigle quickly learned that to grow the company, he needed to reinvest profits wisely and focus on developing new products that parents could support.
2. Reaching the $100 million milestone
He also learned to conquer his second obstacle, growing Kids2 to reach a nine-figure revenue to help achieve this landmark. After hovering around $80 million for a few years, Gunnigle needed to figure out how to increase his company’s growth.
Once he reached this milestone, his company took off, achieving exponential growth. But, along the way, he also learned how to expand the foundations of his business.
3. Designing products at a high level
The third obstacle that Gunnigle learned to conquer was focusing on what he could do to boost his product design process. After seeing the success of his products, he has developed methods in place to help Kids2 scale globally.
This has also allowed him to focus on the company’s global branding strategy and detail the processes that his company needs to follow to produce high-quality products.
Allow your employees to empower themselves
When you allow different teams within your business to collaborate, you open the doors to new ideas and innovation. Gunnigle understands this and has instilled a company culture that allows his employees to govern themselves.
When reflecting on letting his employees be a part of the decision-making process, he states, “I think employees have to go above and beyond. All of us do when we are trusted or in a collaborative environment. It’s always remarkable what teams can put together when you give them the keys.”
It’s also easy for your employees to get involved and feel empowered when they support your company’s vision and brand. By giving your employees a reason to rally behind you, you provide them with the opportunity to be passionate about what they do.
Gunnigle even gives his teams the ability to move forward upon unanimous agreement. This includes integral members of his company, including sales operations, brand marketing, and product design.
His collaborative environment also allows everyone within his company the opportunity to refine their communication skills. Ultimately, everyone is a part of the ongoing dialogue and is encouraged to voice their opinion.
What do new entrepreneurs get wrong?
When you’re first starting a business or operating a small operation, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. Gunnigle has seen it all and offers three actionable tips for greener entrepreneurs.
First, make sure to keep your ego in check. It can be easy to take things personally or get wrapped up in office politics when you’re first starting. Gunnigle suggests that this can be a mistake and ultimately lead to an unsuccessful start.
Second, don’t just focus on getting the job done. Having regular meetings and conversations with your employees can help everyone come together. Increased exposure to your employees can also help you figure out everyone’s talents and weaknesses.
Third, take the time to step back and identify your barriers and how to overcome them. Then, create systems and processes that will help your company grow. As a business owner, it’s crucial to adapt to changes and not be afraid of bending to acclimate to a changing business. Gunnigle further advises, “Make sure that you have the right resources to be successful and deliver on your strategy.”
If you follow the steps above, you’ll be on your way to building a successful business.
These are just some of the lessons Gunnigle has learned along the way.
What does leadership mean?
When Gunnigle first took over Kids2 in 2005, he coordinated various functions to align with his goals and optimize workflow. Of course, this process didn’t come without a learning curve. However, as he further sank into the leadership role, he improved his communication skills and simplified his vision for the company.
In Gunnigle’s opinion, leadership means having a vision and philosophy of your business’s future. To be a proficient leader, you need to surround yourself with people who share your vision and help you achieve it. You also need to plan for the future and allocate the time to do so.
When describing his role as a leader, he said, “Our job is to pave the road before our teams get there, so it’s as smooth as possible.”
He also believes in surrounding himself with great people to collaborate with to achieve Kids2’s vision. By doing this, he can point his company in the right direction and create the right environment for progress. Additionally, with this growth comes an opportunity for him to take a step back and figure out which types of people are best suited for specific roles within the company.
He advises, “You have to have a great appreciation for everybody at the table, whether it is insights, design, or quality, to improve your product development and your innovation every year.”
What makes a great leader?
Simply put, appreciation of your employees can go a long way. Gunnigle believes that a company’s success is determined by its people—not the other way around. So, if you take care of your staff and motivate them to do their best, they’ll be more likely to succeed.
Leaders also need to have the ability to inspire their team and align them with your company’s purpose. You can do this by communicating your vision, setting goals, and celebrating successes.
Ultimately, an effective leader successfully motivates their team to go above and beyond.
Gunnigle suggests that this happens due to how authentic his company is. He also credits this to his team of employees—how everyone enjoys working together to help progress toy innovation.
Additionally, you need to be authentic and create an environment for your employees that aligns with your brand’s story. As he puts it, “The number one thing that people like working here for is the people that surround them.” As an employee, dealing with high turnover rates can be frustrating. However, Gunnigle has managed to keep a positive work environment by fostering a sense of community and purpose.
Sometimes we fail as leaders
With great success comes failure along the way. However, Gunnigle emphasizes that it’s essential to learn from these mistakes and keep moving forward. When reflecting on the times that he has failed as a leader, he recalls the time that Kids2 decided to get into selling car seats, “It was a classic example of not doing your homework and not having the appropriate amount of resources to be successful.”
Although many entrepreneurs may see a product’s failure negatively, he was able to turn it into a positive. Now, he makes sure to research a product before adding it to his inventory.
Gunnigle also recommended avoiding going on “auto-pilot” at all costs. Instead, you need to constantly learn how to run your business and pay attention to everything going on around you. This will help you stay aligned with your vision. Not to mention, it will help you stay on top of your business’ finances. Gunnigle advises, “You have to ensure that you have checks and balances around the finances and your relationship with lenders.
3 pieces of advice for young entrepreneurs
As someone who has learned how to consistently pivot his company towards the future, Gunnigle has provided us with some great tips.
Here are Gunnigle’s top 3 pieces of advice for young entrepreneurs.
1. Surround yourself with good people who give you feedback
You can’t be a successful leader if you don’t have people willing to provide you with feedback. So, it needs to be a healthy environment where everyone can give input and ideas.
We’re not born with the ability to see ourselves from an outside perspective. Therefore, you need to get feedback from other people in your life. This will keep you grounded and help you realize where you can improve.
It can be easy to gravitate to compliments when you’re in a leadership position. However, this can be a downfall because you’re not getting an accurate depiction of your company’s progress. Instead, you need to constantly seek out feedback to learn and improve.
2. Try hard to focus
To be successful, you need to be learning and growing constantly. This means that you can’t afford to coast through your workday. If you’re not putting in 100% of your effort, you may need to reconsider what’s important to you and where you want to be.
If you have trouble doing this, set a goal for the day and work towards it. This will help you stay dedicated to what’s at hand, and it will also help you get a better understanding of your priorities.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be working all the time. On the contrary, it’s imperative to take some time for yourself to recharge and come back with fresh ideas. However, you should always push your business forward and focus on your long-term goals.
If you need help focusing during the workday and figuring out your goals, check out this video below:
3. Understand your strengths and weaknesses
When you start your business, it’s essential to be nimble and quick to adapt. However, as your business grows, you need to start delegating tasks that aren’t in your wheelhouse. This way, you can focus on what you’re good at and hire people to improve your weaknesses.
Once you do this, you need to ensure that you’re giving them the tools they need to be successful. This includes setting clear expectations, providing adequate training, and being available for feedback.
It’s also essential to stay true to yourself and what makes you unique. Gunnigle has been successful because he’s been able to tap into his strengths and recognize his shortcomings.
If you have difficulty letting go of certain responsibilities, hire someone to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because it will become more challenging to do everything on your own as your business expands.
What to avoid when developing your work culture
Every company has its own culture, which reflects the people who work there. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the different aspects of your company’s culture to develop it in a beneficial way for everyone.
In addition to providing advice for young entrepreneurs, Gunnigle provided us with insight on what not to do when it comes to your workplace.
When asked about how entrepreneurs can avoid a toxic work culture, Gunnigle said, “I think the culture takes on the leader’s personality. If you’re a good leader, you will deliver a good culture. So those things go hand in hand.”
When you focus on leading your company the right way, with employee involvement, you’ll create an environment where your employees want to thrive and grow.
However, you can’t expect it to happen overnight. Instead, Gunnigle stated that the key is consistency and dedication. If you commit to creating a positive workplace focused on long-term goals and providing value for customers, you should start to see positivity in your workplace.
As he suggests, be purposeful in the way that you choose to run your business. Your company culture isn’t just about what happens in the office. For example, if you’re surrounded by loyal customers who are happy with your work, that will affect how your employees feel when they leave the office.
On the other hand, if you have unhappy customers or an atmosphere where employees don’t communicate well, it will be reflected in your work culture and possibly even the product you produce.
Check-in with your employees frequently and ask about what isn’t working, so you can improve the company as a whole.
Lastly, don’t let your work culture become stagnant. On the contrary, you need to evolve constantly because otherwise, it won’t be effective in promoting development.
What if your work culture is already toxic?
If you think that your work culture is already negative, don’t panic. Gunnigle has some advice for how to turn things around.
The first thing you need to do is rediscover what your company is about and figure out how you can pivot. This includes taking a step back and looking at your long-term goals. Then, it would help if you started communicating with your employees more effectively. This means that you should be transparent and be willing to have difficult conversations.
You need to start setting the tone for your work culture. This means being an example for your employees and holding yourself accountable.
It’s also essential to create a system where employees can provide feedback. When they feel comfortable giving input, they’ll be more likely to buy into your philosophy.
If you can’t change the entire culture on your own, start by changing one small thing at a time. This will help show your employees that you’re serious about making things better. Then, he instructs, “Own up to your deficiencies and be comfortable and honest in that conversation and just start walking towards that and bringing everyone with you.”
That’s the best way to help your employees gravitate towards you and take an interest in advancing with you. Finally, make sure that you’re acknowledging your employees for a job well done. This will inspire them to keep up the excellent work and continue helping you improve.
In the end, it’s important to remember that you can turn toxic work culture around if you have the right mindset. Gunnigle suggests taking the time every day to improve your work culture. If you do that, there’s no reason you can’t encourage a more positive work environment for yourself and your employees.
Getting employees to trust you
As your business grows, you’ll need to trust the people you hire. If you can’t do that, it’s pretty difficult for your employees to follow suit.
Gunnigle believes that if you deliver on your promise repeatedly, your employees will start to notice and begin to trust you. According to him, stable leadership is what people want to see and follow.
So, the first thing you need to do is ensure that you’re delivering on your promises. From there, it’s up to continue putting your best foot forward. If you break someone’s trust, it isn’t easy to get it back, and you’ll have to prove yourself to them once more. Gunnigle suggests using a stairstep approach to regain trust if you need to do this.
Improving your business
To improve your business, you need to take a step back and analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Here are three tips Gunnigle provides for young entrepreneurs to follow that are looking to improve their business.
1. Bring in outside information to make good decisions
To ensure his success, Gunnigle regularly brings in an informal, outside advisory board to bring in additional information that can benefit his business. By doing this, he can make better decisions because he has different perspectives to consider.
2. Develop financial acumen
To be a successful business owner, you need to understand your numbers. Gunnigle advises young entrepreneurs to develop their financial understanding to make sound financial decisions.
Financial acumen isn’t just about crunching numbers; it’s also about understanding your business and where you’re making money and losing money. Furthermore, it’s about understanding how to keep the money you make to develop your product further.
Gunnigle suggests, “You have to be ready for contingency planning because it’s hard to predict where the word will go or what will happen.”
3. Create a positive work culture
As mentioned before, it’s crucial to create a positive work culture. This doesn’t just help your existing employees; it also helps attract new talent. If you can make an attractive work culture, you’ll be able to find the best talent to help your business grow.
To achieve success, you have to have a strong understanding of your business and the people that help you operate it. So, take the time to understand your employees and their needs.
Once you can do that, you’ll be able to strengthen your relationships with your employees and improve your business in the process. That’s what will help you grow exponentially, so it’s fundamental not to neglect this valuable advice.
As far as product development is concerned, there isn’t anything better than creating value for someone. Gunnigle believes that this is vital to growing your business. If you can find out what people want and create value for them, you’ll help grow your company.
And finally, remember that managing a business takes time and effort every day. There’s no specific formula for success, but if you can put in the time, you’ll be able to create a successful business.